Patrick Bateman, the yuppie serial killer du jour created by Bret Easton Ellis in the novel American Psycho, is obsessed with all things superficial—a symbol of murderous, unchecked Reaganism. But those who read the book had to struggle—reach even—to come to such a conclusion, as Ellis settles for pop-cultural reference as a sort of shorthand. If Mary Harron’s adaptation of the novel feels deeper, maybe it’s because the director wasn’t able to get permission from many designers to use their names in her film, and as such she has to focus on more than just Bateman’s interest in dropping names. During the infamous threesome scene that earned the film its NC-17 rating, Christian Bale frighteningly evokes Bateman’s complete lack of emotional involvement; he makes love to himself, enjoying the curves of his body more than he does the women he violently berates. Though Bateman is completely loathsome, Harron shows us his human side: He readily admits to his lack of emotion but in sparing his secretary (Chloë Sevigny) harm he not only acknowledges his unstoppable problem but recognizes that there is good in the word. Harron even takes a jab at Ellis’s disinterest in offering a rationale for Bateman’s killer ways (he apologizes to a dinner date for being late by saying that he is a “product of divorce”). If there aren’t enough scenes in the film like the final one where Patrick and his friends watch Reagan’s presidential address (that “No Exit” sign hovering in the background), Harron’s vision is at least more haunting than Ellis’s. More so than the book, the film is a nightmarish vision of ’80s self-involvement. If all of Ellis’s characters more or less stay the same, Harron’s film suggests that, like the ’80s, Bateman to shall pass. He is something we must all collectively learn to survive. There is an exit—it’s just called the future.
- Mary Harron
- Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
- Christian Bale, Chloë Sevigny, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Bill Sage, Jared Leto
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